Christian Lealiifano comeback 'was bigger than rugby' after victorious leukaemia battle
Thrust into a fight for life, Christian Lealiifano began to battle leukaemia drawing on the spirit which defines him.
Less than a year ago the Brumbies star sat in hospital having chemotherapy, with rugby paling into insignificance.
But those closest to him never doubted his capacity to return.
Last night the sporting world smiled in concert with the Canberra crowd’s standing ovation when he ran on to the field for the second half of the Brumbies’ Super Rugby quarter-final.
While the team’s season ended with a 35-16 quarter-final defeat to the Hurricanes, Lealiifano’s comeback made an inspiring statement about life.
“Today was bigger than rugby,” teammate Scott Sio said after the match.
“As Christian’s alluded to, rugby’s such a small part of our lives. I guess things do get put into perspective.”
Lealiifano’s journey has been shaped by adversity and positivity.
After enduring chemotherapy, his sister Sally helped save his life as the donor for his bone marrow transplant.
“He said ‘look I’m going to get through my 100-day treatment and then he would set a new goal and just keep attacking it’,” Sio said.
Lealiifano reached a major milestone when he returned to training with the Brumbies earlier in the year. He then set his sights on playing.
The 29-year-old achieved that last month, coming off the bench for the Brumbies in an exhibition match in Singapore.
The 19-Test Wallaby then played fourth-grade club rugby in Canberra before his Super Rugby return was put on hold when he tweaked his hamstring at training.
Given everything he had been through, it was a minuscule hurdle which wouldn’t derail his presence in a do-or-die final.
“It’s an amazing feat,” Sio said.
“To think that 12 months ago he was in hospital with tubes in him doing chemotherapy and he’s come out.”
Coach Stephen Larkham said watching Lealiifano remove his bib at half-time was an emotional moment.
“Hopefully we’re going to see a lot more of him next year,” Larkham said.